Kansas senior Wyvette Mayberry scored 13 points in Wednesday’s 60-58 home win over Iowa State, with a handful of those coming in the crucial fourth quarter.
While Mayberry was thrilled with her 13-point output, she said none of it would’ve been possible without her defense. No, her steals didn’t always lead to layups or easy buckets.
Instead, her intensity on defense inspired her to lock in and remain aggressive on offense, leading to 4-of-8 shooting, including 2-of-5 from 3-point range and 3-of-4 at the free throw line.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because her approach is the quintessential Wyvette Mayberry philosophy on basketball.
“Coach Brandon talks to me about my defense all the time,” Mayberry told R1S1 Sports. “Even before practices, he’ll say, ‘Today, I don’t want you to worry about nothing else besides guarding the ball.’ It’s just something I practice and it’s definitely something I take pride in. Whenever I don’t play good defense, I don’t play good offense. And I know it immediately. My defense fuels my offense.”
It’s also something that she started to focus on long before transferring to KU from Tulsa.
Growing up, Mayberry emphasized defense with her father, Lee Mayberry, in the gym after school. During his day at Arkansas, Lee was a part of one of the nastiest defenses to ever play in the college game. So, he knows a thing or two about how to maximize your production on that end. He also knew that his daughter had it in her to do exactly that.
“We would work on offense, don’t get me wrong,” Mayberry recalled. “But it was always defense. Defensive slides, jumping to the ball, shell drill, being in gaps. Every day after school, that’s literally what we did.”
It was around that time — sometime in high school — that Mayberry first began to hear her father brag about her defensive potential.
“I remember my dad would tell people, ‘Oh, and Wyvette, she can guard,’” she said with a smile. “He saw it in me. I didn’t always see it in myself. But he saw it in me. And after that I was like, ‘You know what, I can.’”
It’s been nothing but one smooth slide and another quick step after the next since then. And plenty of opponents have seen Mayberry’s effort take them completely out of their game.
Earlier this season, during the Jayhawks’ upset win over No. 4 Baylor, Mayberry held BU star Sarah Andrews to just 6 points. On Wednesday night, in the win over Iowa State, she hounded Iowa State veteran Emily Ryan everywhere she went, holding her scoreless on 0-for-4 shooting.
Mayberry calls her effort against Baylor her favorite defensive game to date while also noting, “I’ve got more ahead, too.”
While talking to R1S1 Sports after Wednesday’s game, Mayberry was serenaded by KU assistant coaches Karyla Knight and Marqu’es Webb with approving roars for her big night on the defensive end, which was the spark to Kansas limiting Iowa State to just two points in transition and 39% shooting overall.
Mayberry’s coaches and teammates say that the best way to bring out the best form of Mayberry’s defense is to make it personal. A challenge here. A question there. And a call-out at any time. Any of those will trigger her inner-competitor and light that fire.
Mayberry said KU head coach Brandon Schneider had another approach.
“He told me (last year), ‘You’re hands down our best defender,’” Mayberry recalled. “He just instills that in me and he lets me know every day, ‘This is what we need from you.’”
Freshman guard S’Mya Nichols, who is Mayberry’s roommate, whole-heartedly agrees and says there are few things that get the Jayhawks fired up quite like Mayberry being turned up on defense.
“Whenever she gets a stop, she’s screaming, ‘Let’s gooooo’ and that’s what we love,” Nichols said. “We love that energy and we all feel that.”
As for the specific elements of Mayberry’s defense that she likes most — unless it’s being used on her and then, ‘it sucks’ — Nichols said there are two things that make Mayberry such a great defender.
“She really crowds into them and that’s all we preach at practice, ‘Crowd into her, crowd into her.’ It’s all about disruption,” Nichols said. “She’s also quick and long, which, I mean, that’s not really normal, especially from a defensive stance. So, she’s able to react really fast.”
Like a brick wall preventing the opposing ball handler from going any farther in that particular direction, Mayberry loves to beat people to the spot they’re trying to get to and relishes watching the frustration set in.
“They’re uncomfortable,” Nichols said, smiling.
Mayberry said there are four stats she looks at first after every game to fully judge how she played.
Points, turnovers and steals are included among them, but the first is always plus/minus. That, Mayberry says, tells her what the other stats will show all by itself.
And so much of that plus/minus number is determined by how well she defends.
That way of thinking is just part of the evolution of Mayberry’s game, but she’s reached the point now where she is totally comfortable thinking defense-first and being known as a top-tier defender.
“At Tulsa it would’ve been harder,” she conceded. “But at this level I’m surrounded by some buckets and so many good players that I don’t need to score. But I do need to play defense.”
Wednesday’s victory moved Kansas to 10-9 overall and 3-5 in Big 12 play. The Jayhawks will head to Oklahoma on Saturday before starting a stretch of five straight games against teams with sub-.500 conference records.
Saturday’s tipoff in Norman is slated for 6 p.m. on ESPN+.
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